Minimum Wage and the New Progressives


My first thought upon reading in today’s Providence Journal of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s intention to continue Rhode Island government’s relentless push to redistribute money and make business more difficult by increasing the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit was that she has decisively proven that one can know how to make money appear from thin air and still not understand business or the economy.  But then I followed a link in Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “newsletter” to a book review by Malcom Harris in the progressive New Republic.  The book Harris reviews is by Princeton historian Thomas Leonard, mainly concerning the explicit racism and belief in eugenics of progressives a century ago.

Note these lines from Harris, with the interior quote from Leonard’s book (emphases in original):

Among his revelations: The minimum wage was created to destroy jobs; progressives (including the founders of this magazine) really did hate small businesses and they were all way too enthusiastic about Germany’s social structure. …

The minimum wage, in addition to providing some workers with a better standard of living, would guard white men from competition. Leonard is worth reading at length:

A legal minimum wage, applied to immigrants and those already working in America, ensured that only the productive workers were employed. The economically unproductive, those whose labor was worth less than the legal minimum, would be denied entry, or, if already employed, would be idled. For economic reformers who regarded inferior workers as a threat, the minimum wage provided an invaluable service. It identified inferior workers by idling them. So identified, they could be dealt with. The unemployable would be removed to institutions, or to celibate labor colonies. The inferior immigrant would be removed back to the old country or to retirement. The woman would be removed to the home, where she could meet her obligations to family and race.

As Goldberg points out, one could take modern progressives at their word that an impenetrable wall now exists between them and their ideological forebears when it comes to the racist motivation and still wonder whether they should consider that their erstwhile heroes might have been correct about the effects of a minimum wage.

I’d argue that the answer, as regular readers will no doubt recognize, is that progressives have not changed as much as they, themselves, would like to think.  They still believe that, as Harris puts it, they are the ones who should lead all of society.  They still want to identify and sort people into that inferior class.  But they’ve realized that they can make use of the underclass as a weapon against the more-traditionalist, -motivated, and -individualistic middle, which is ultimately the threat against their elitist designs.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    “the explicit racism and belief in eugenics of progressives a century ago”.

    Looking back almost a century, it is hard to believe the grip “eugenics” had on American society. I think it could be likened to the current religion of “global warming”. Nothing was too far fetched. Although they distance themselves now, it was the basis for Planned Parenthood. In the 1930’s, the Nazis sent representatives to Minnesota(?) to study their Eugenics laws. On the plus side, it was scientists steeped in Eugenics who really “discovered” genetics and DNA.